Go deep

One sure sign of a winning sports team is a roster of well-prepared players. When one goes down, another takes over without the team missing a beat.

In sports, it’s called depth. In business, it’s called succession planning.

At Skipper Bud’s, based in Winthrop Harbor, Ill., (Ranked 2 in 2005), planning is part of the institutional culture of the company.

Many businesses have legal arrangements in place with regards to ownership transfer, and Skipper Bud’s is no different. Personal estate plans, stock transfer arrangements and buy/sell agreements have been created and will work to ensure an orderly exchange of control when the time comes.

But Skipper Bud’s succession planning extends much deeper than ownership. As Dennis Ellerbrock, company president, explains, “far more important to our customers, financial resources and suppliers is the effective transfer of management over time … our legal, financial and, above all else, our operations departments have active and ongoing succession plans in place.”

Like any good sports team, Skipper Bud’s uses depth-chart planning, which the company says is prevalent throughout the organization at all levels.

Ellerbrock profiles seven of the company’s corporate officers and directors in its Top 100 application and says each has a backup who is well into his or her training to assume that person’s duties if, or when, the time comes.

To illustrate this, Ellerbrock cites Ron Thiesen, who he says is “an excellent example of how our succession is working.” Thiesen is Skipper Bud’s vice president of finance and risk management and is now working part time as he moves toward retirement. With that in mind, Tony Donarski, the company’s vice president of accounting, is gradually taking over many of Thiesen’s duties so that the transition is as seamless as possible.

But whether the transition is gradual or abrupt, having a plan in place, or, like Skipper Bud’s, a specific person chosen and trained, makes the process as painless as possible.

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